PHOTO: Claimed image of Mohammad al-Assad (left) with President Assad
For three days, rumors have circulated about the death of Muhammad Tawfiq al-Assad, a well-known cousin of the President. His demise seemed near-certain, but the circumstances were unclear: was he killed fighting rebels or did he meet his end in a local feud in Qardaha — the ancestral Assad home — in western Syria?
Muhammad al-Assad, 48, was the grandson of Ismail al-Assad, a half-brother of the late Hafez al-Assad — the predecessor and father of the current President. He had a local reputation for making a fortune out of smuggling.
His supporters claim that he was killed on Thursday in the battle for Dourin and the nearby Mount Dourin, strategic points in northern Latakia Province which have changed hands several times in the Syrian conflict. Regime forces took the area, near rebel-held Salma, earlier this month; rebels counter-attacked last week and briefly held both the town and mountain.
However, far from being a “shahid” (martyr) as his supporters claim, it appears that Assad suffered a less exalted fate. A local correspondent, writing for Syria Comment, explains:
Alawite sources that I have contacted in Latakia, and one in al-Qardaha itself, all claim he was not. They confirm one story: Shaykh al-Jabal was killed near al-Qardaha by a man named Ali Salhab.
This happened after Shaykh al-Jabal [Assad] had a long night of drinking and partying. Whether or not Ali Salhab was drinking is debated because many said he ambushed Shaykh al-Jabal, then shot him dead.
Assad and his reported attacker had a long history of acrimony. One source said Assad had put Ali Salhab in his personal prison and tortured him. Another said Ali Salhab was motivated by a failed land deal.
Assad’s body was allegedly taken to Dourin to provide him with an honorable death at the battle front.
Syrian State media has yet to acknowledge the death; however, the outlet of its ally, Press TV, has just posted an account that is likely to become the official story:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lost another close relative in the war against Takfiri militants operating in the Arab country.
Reports emerged Saturday that Mohammad Tawfiq al-Assad, a cousin of Bashar’s, was killed in fighting with the terrorists in the northwestern city of Latakia.
Reports said Tawfiq, an influential relative of Assad, was killed after suffering injuries in the fighting….
Known as “Sheikh al-Jabal” or “Lord of the Mountain,” Tawfiq was believed to be in his late forties and was regarded as a major leader of the anti-Takfiri fight in Syria.
Regime Continues Airstrikes on Douma Near Damascus, Killing More Civilians
For the third day in a row, heavy regime bombing of Douma near Damascus is being reported.
Claims are circulating of at least 19 people killed and 50 wounded on Sunday.
At least 16 people were slain, including 10 women, in air raids on Friday and Saturday.
The rebel faction Jaish al-Islam, based in Douma, has promised retaliatory rocket attacks on military positions in Damascus, but so far none have been reported.